Tennessee was on the other side of the rout-that-wasn’t on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.
A week after playing Florida much closer than expected, the Vols got more than they wanted from Ohio University, holding off the 23-point underdogs, 34-23.
UT (2-2) had to overcome an early 14-7 deficit and never really dominated the Bobcats (2-2) from the Mid-American Conference.
An announced crowd of 95,535 included a significant number of ticket-buyers who chose to stay home on a rainy day and watch the game on pay-per-view or listen to it on the radio.
The Vols got another 100-plus-yard rushing game — and a touchdown — from Montario Hardesty.
Jonathan Crompton threw touchdown passes to Brandon Warren and Bryce Brown — and his eighth interception.
And defensive end Chris Walker chipped in with a 7-yard interception-return touchdown to give the Vols a little breathing room.
The Bobcats had only one offensive touchdown, a 2-yard pass from Theo Scott to LaVon Brazill in the first quarter.
Their other touchdown was a 95-yard kickoff return from Chris Garrett, also in the first quarter.
Tennessee’s 24-17 halftime lead shrunk before it grew.
Daniel Lincoln missed his first field goal of the year, hitting the upright from 46 yards – after which Ohio drove for an 18-yard field goal from Matt Weller to make it a 24-20 game.
The Bobcats almost got more than that after arriving with first-and-goal at the 4.
On third-and-goal at the 2, middle linebacker Nick Reveiz stopped Donte Harden at the 1 and Ohio opted for the field goal.
The Vols answered with a 73-yard drive — all on the ground until Crompton flipped a screen pass to Bryce Brown for a 26-yard touchdown.
UT led 31-20 as the fourth quarter began.
It began with a near-disaster for the Vols.
On the second play of the final period, Crompton fumbled while retreating near the sideline. Ohio linebacker Noah Keller picked up the football and ran 46 yards for an apparent touchdown.
When the play was reviewed, however, Keller had stepped out of bounds as he scooped up the ball. Tennessee retained possession.
Tennessee scored on the game’s opening drive but quickly found itself in a catch-up posture.
Hardesty’s 11 yard TD run capped a 69-yard drive and put the Vols on top 7-0.
While the Vols were celebrating on the sideline, Ohio’s Chris Garrett took Chad Cunningham’s kickoff and darting 95 yards for the game-tying touchdown.
It’s not as if UT shouldn’t have been warned. It was the fourth kick-return score of Garrett’s career.
Tennessee then followed its special-teams mistake with one on offense — a Crompton interception.
On third-and-14 at his 28, Crompton threw a pass that deflected off Gerald Jones into the arms of Ohio’s Keller.
The Bobcats were in business at Tennesse’s 30 and the Vols almost made the defensive stand.
On third-and-5, however, Theo Scott hit Taylor Price for 25 yards to the 2. Then, spotting an apparent coverage bust, Scott flipped to a wide-open LaVon Brazill for the go-ahead score.
UT’s response was not immediate. An exchange of punts that concluded with a 21-yard Nu’Keese Richardson return put the Vols in business at the Bobcats’ 30.
On fourth-and-1 at the 21, Crompton flipped a short pass to Hardesty, who rambled 18 yards to the 3.
From there, Crompton hit Brandon Warren for the score to tie it 14-14 on the last play of the first quarter.
The second quarter settled into a stalemate, broken when Chris Walker intercepted a Scott pass and returned it 7 yards for a touchdown and a 21-14 UT lead.
In the final 3:18 of the half, both teams executed hurry-up drives, each good for three points.
Weller’s 36-yard field goal made it a 21-17 game with 40 seconds on the clock.
The Vols hustled in position for Lincoln’s 38-yarder on the final snap of the half and Tennessee went to the locker room with a 24-17 lead.